When researchers first began working on the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, or CHIME, they envisioned a radio telescope that would make precise measurements of the acceleration of the Universe to improve the knowledge of why the expansion of the universe is accelerating. Instead, it has become ideal for detecting fast radio bursts—radio flashes happening from far outside the Milky Way galaxy.
“The structure of the pulse is expected to tell us about the environment of the source, and is another indication that these are real events,” said West Virginia University Assistant Professor Kevin Bandura.
The CHIME telescope, located in the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, British Columbia, is comprised of four cylindrical reflectors, 256 dual-polarized antennas for data collection and an F-Engine and X-Engine for data processing. Bandura, an assistant professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, played a key role in developing the device’s F-Engine, which digitally processes signals from space into frequencies that can then be processed into digital maps of the Universe.
As reported in the January 9 issue of Nature, the international journal of science, during its pre-commissioning phase CHIME detected 13 FRBs. Prior to this, astronomers, including WVU astronomy professor Duncan Lorimer, had reported between 50-60 examples since they were first detected in 2007.
“Although the CHIME project began before fast radio bursts were even understood it turned out to be a good tool for capturing and measuring them,” Bandura said. “We have the opportunity to be the first to understand what they are.”
The report notes CHIME’s FRB event rate is predicted to be between 2 and 50 FRBs per day.
A second report, also appearing in the Jan. 9 issue of Nature, details that CHIME also detected only the second known FRB that repeats, radio flashes re-appearing at the same point in the sky. According to a previous report, the only other known repeating FRB first appeared in 2012, seeming to originate in a galaxy some 2.5 billion light-years from Earth.
“What is interesting is that we really are seeing many of them and didn’t just get lucky. We still aren’t sure if the repeating events are different from the events we only see once,” said Bandura. “The repeater we see seems to have similar structures to the other known repeater, FRB 121102. With so few events, however, there isn’t a strong statement yet to make.”
Bandura continues to serve as a critical member of the project and participates in analysis of the collected data as it becomes available.